REFLECTIONS FROM THE 3RD NEW TRENDS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING INTERNATIONAL ONLINE CONFERENCE
Mutlu Bosson & Pınar Gündüz
The 3rd New Trends in Foreign Language Teaching International Online Conference was organised by the University of Granada and took place between 19-21 May, 2021. The conference attracted contributors and an audience from various teaching contexts ranging from primary to tertiary level education. The presentations focused on diverse topics from creativity in the language classroom to CLIL and TBL projects. We describe the main points from two sessions that we find most relevant to our context.
USER ENGAGEMENT PATTERNS IN LMOOCS OR HOW TO FOSTER DISTANCE LANGUAGE LEARNING THROUGH MOOCS
RAYMOND ECHITCHI and RUBÉN CHACÓN-BELTRÁN
The presenters have designed and administered an intermediate level writing course in English to learners from around the world. The course is titled “Starting to Write English with no Mistakes”. They have run the course 9 times so far, and experienced certain issues regarding participation rates, which was the focus point of the research study that they presented at this conference.
Whilst the course aims to get the students to connect with and learn from each other in a flexible manner, it also has an underlying syllabus and instructors offer students guidance and feedback. Therefore, it is a combination of free learning as well as structured learning practices. The role of the teachers is to ask students questions to encourage them to participate in the course. They also correct students’ mistakes in their written work.
The course is made up of 12 modules. Each module includes a video presentation, a quiz and a discussion thread. The course administrators chose to use Spanish as the language of the interface although English was the medium of instruction and interaction amongst peers.
We thought the choice of a Spanish interface was interesting and we asked about this to the presenters. They said the rationale behind their decision was to instil confidence in the learners. They also stated that although the teachers encouraged the learners to use English to the best of their ability during tasks, students were free to ask their questions in Spanish if they felt they could not express what they wanted to say in English.
The work assigned to students varied from responses to questions on forums to paraphrasing and summarising tasks. Their research methodology had a mixture of automatic and manual data collection in that quiz completion was graded automatically and teachers graded some other components such as the amount and quality of participation in the discussion threads.
In terms of student participation rates, the presenters shared the data from the two latest editions of the course that they based their research on. In these two editions, which took place in May 2019 and November 2019, there were 877 and 1033 users respectively.
The presenters stated that the course completion rate is a common problem observed by various researchers in the field. They also observed the disparity between the registered users versus the number of students who actually completed the coursework. In addition, the number of active participants decreased substantially over time. This decrease was observed in all types of tasks.
For example, when they analysed the video activity completion rates, the researchers discovered that among the 1033 registered participants in the November course, only 344 had completed the video task in Module 1. This gradually decreased over the period of the course, going down to 22 students in module 12.
In terms of the completion of quizzes, which were made up of 10 multiple choice questions, the researchers realised that the participation rate was even lower compared to the video tasks. The decrease in the number of students was also evident in forum activities, which had the lowest participation rates. The participation rate for the forum tasks can be seen below:
The researchers found out that there was a huge gap between the number of students who expressed an interest in the course and those who completed all coursework. This was the case in all the iterations of the course. Secondly, they observed that the more engagement and effort a task required, the fewer students actually completed it. When there was some kind of production involved, student participation dropped further. Student participation also dropped gradually and steadily in time throughout the course.
The researchers emphasized the importance of ensuring that there is a closer match between the number of registered students versus the number of students who actually complete the course work for the success of a course. They also highlighted that there needs to be an incentive to complete the modules. When we asked the presenters whether they had tried awarding badges and certificates, they stated that they had tried awarding badges. However, this did not seem to have an impact on participation rates. The researchers added that a certificate was made available to successful students at a low cost (10 Euros).
The presenters pointed out that the students were able to move freely between the 12 modules as they wished as all the modules were open to them simultaneously. The presenters are considering not allowing students to jump between modules in the future editions of the course.
FLIPPING THE CLASSROOM TO TEACH ENGLISH GRAMMAR
by ENCARNACIÓN ALMAZÁN RUIZ
In this session, the presenter went over the main principles of flipped learning, and shared how she implemented the flipped approach for a specific grammar point. The presenter also shared the feedback she gathered from her students.
The presenter shared her belief that teaching grammar is a challenge because students do not think it is essential for communication. Therefore, it is challenging to keep the students motivated to study grammar. The presenter’s main aim in exploring and implementing the flipped approach was to avoid boredom and lack of motivation as well as to improve low exam results.
The presenter introduced the key principles of the flipped approach. She emphasized that while the traditional grammar presentation includes presentation, practice and production stages, these lesson sequences to teach grammar in a flipped approach are different:
The presentation stage of the flipped approach has the following characteristics:
●The presentation of the theoretical content is not done by the teacher, but through a video or a reading material before class.
●Students read, watch, study and process these materials by completing tasks such as summarising, taking notes, or outlining before they come to class.
The practice and production stages of a flipped class are also different to that of the traditional classroom as the tasks are mostly carried out in groups in a collaborative fashion. There are cooperative sequences which are based on collaborative learning principles. For instance, students discuss the learning material and work together to demonstrate their understanding and apply their knowledge. While the students work actively and collaboratively in their groups, the teacher monitors the students and provides support when needed.
The presenter shared the following visual that displays the difference of the approach between the traditional classroom activities and the flipped classroom:
To put it briefly, the first exposure to the theoretical content is at home prior to the lesson through a reading activity from the textbook or other reading materials, videos, or podcasts. In this way the students have the chance to digest the information and reflect on the theoretical knowledge they explored through the pre-class work. Giving students tasks that require low level cognitive processing prior to the lesson allows the teacher to make use of class time for active learning. Class time is used to work with these contents actively by discussing, analysing, synthesizing, applying knowledge and extending their learning.
The presenter also touched on the four pillars of the flipped approach:
●Flexible Environment: This pillar suggests that teachers must be flexible in terms of time and the learning environment.
●Learning Culture: Learning culture shifts from teacher-centred to student-centred.
●Intentional Content: Content is accessible to students and active learning opportunities are maximized in class through the tasks and activities that are designed.
●Professional Educator: The teacher makes themselves available to all their students to provide timely and effective feedback.
As part of her research, the presenter designed a flipped grammar class on genitives. Prior to class, students watched a video about the English case and genitive, and took notes. They then read an article on the use of case in English, and summarised it as part of their homework. Following this, students completed an online quiz based on the content of the video and the reading material. The online quiz allowed the teacher to track how many of her students had completed the pre-work and arrange the groups and her teaching sequences and activities accordingly. Having the students study the theoretical content before they came to class allowed the presenter to design collaborative active learning tasks for class.
In class, the presenter completed two introductory activities that allowed her to check students’ understanding as well as focus on the more challenging aspects of the target structure, and clarify any ambiguous or misunderstood points. Then, the students worked in groups and discussed their understanding of the grammar structure, and whether they had any remaining questions or doubts. The teacher helped students while monitoring them and clarified any points. The students then created a grammatical poster that displayed their understanding of the target structure, and presented their posters to their classmates.
At the end of the session, the presenter gave a questionnaire to understand the students’ perceptions on the flipped learning experience. In total, 45 of her students responded to the survey. The results were encouraging:
●91 % of the students stated that they preferred the flipped approach to the traditional teaching of grammar
●93% of the students believed that FL was more useful for learning grammar than the traditional approach.
●89% of students expressed that they felt motivated during the activity.
●89% of the students associated FL approach with critical thinking.
●85% considered it was helpful for them to work in groups to learn from each other.
●96% of the students said they would like to continue to have flipped activities in the future.
The presenter also admitted that she faced certain challenges. The most important challenge was that some students demanded the traditional role of the teacher and showed less autonomy and confidence with the flipped method. However, the presenter believed that in time these students could change their perceptions, too.
Finally, the presenter emphasized that the teachers should not assume their students have all understood the target structure introduced in the pre-work. They should ensure that they design certain tasks at the beginning of class to go over the key aspects of the target structure and address any aspects that may potentially be ambiguous or challenging for students before they start more independently in their groups.